IPS explains unexpected budget surplus


The overnight and somewhat incredible financial turnaround for Indianapolis Public Schools is getting high fives, thumbs-up and a few question marks.

Instead of wrestling with a $30 million projected budget deficit, IPS finished 2013 with an $8.4 million balance - a surplus. Because of the financial flip-flop, families and teachers the superintendent says shouldn't see any school closings or layoffs next year.

Instead of finishing 2012 $30 million in the red, the district ended the year $8.5 million in the black. The situation allows IPS to buy some time, and it means decisions to improve failing schools can be more deliberative and less knee-jerk.

"It allows us to be more proactive, not reactionary. It gives us an opportunity to be strategic without resources," said Dr. Lewis Ferebee, IPS superintendent.

The new IPS superintendent's investigation concluded yearly claims of huge budget deficits were based on what IPS expected to spend, not what was actually spent.

"I think they have some explaining to do," said Teresa Meredith, ISTA president.

Meredith is being cautious.

"We need to make sure that money exists to be used. Where did it come from?" she said.

The savings came from a lot of places. IPS 20 on the city's southeast side is one of several schools IPS planned to reopen last year, but didn't. Leaving the schools closed saved more than $5 million.

IPS spent about $10 million less than expected on salaries. Desegregation costs were nearly $10 million under budget. Contractors provided fewer services, saving another $8 million.

Ferebee's new accounting is scoring points among IPS critics .

House speaker Representative Brian Bosma said he was "very impressed. I am glad he's digging in."

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard added, "Dr. Ferebee is taking a lot of problems head on and I give him credit for that."

To quiet skeptics and confirm his accounting, Ferebee wants an independent audit of IPS.